AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Masters is a golf tournament rich in history meant to encapsulate the best aspects of the sport, but a 25-year-long partnership with IBM has allowed the prestigious event to maintain its unique traditions while also reaching new heights in fan engagement with innovative technology that is giving “patrons” everywhere the ultimate fan experience.
There’s a strict no-phone policy at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia during the Masters, a quirky rule that gives “patrons” – the term used to describe spectators at the tournament – the opportunity to disconnect and enjoy the game but despite going off the grid while on the green, the Masters is growing it’s digital footprint “to improve the game of golf and increase fan experience and engagement.”
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IBM Consulting Sports & Entertainment Lead Shannon Miller sat down with FOX Business ahead of the first round on Tuesday to discuss the latest advances that will give fans a firsthand look at what’s happening in Augusta as their favorite golfers tee off.
“Not being at the course and feeling like you’re there is super important here – for a couple of reasons. One is they limit the number of people who can come so most of the people who want to be here can’t be here and two, the folks who are here can’t have their phones,” Miller explained. “There’s no digital experience on the course so this is really all about how can we take what’s really happening in Augusta and share it with the rest of the world.”
Using artificial intelligence (AI) models, IBM analyzed over 120,000 golf shots, 22 different factors, and more than 40 zones on the course to create daily scoring predictions for all 91 players in the field following each round. Miller says fans following the tournament on the mobile app will be able to customize their own experience to follow their favorite golfers while being given updates around 2-3 minutes behind the actual play.
“We say it’s about engagement – it really is about drawing people in, making them feel like they’re here, putting them close to the action, and giving them insights that they’re not going to get anywhere else.”
Fan engagement depends on several factors but seeing your favorite golfer on the green is a seemingly important one.
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“If Tiger Woods is playing one year, and he’s not playing the next year, that can dramatically impact how many people are drawn in because he has such a following but what we’re really focused on is – yes bringing more people to the platform but also keeping them engaged.”
He continued: “Sometimes you see a downturn in the number of people who are following but I don’t think we’ve seen a downturn in the amount of engagement because the golf fans who we’re trying to draw in and keep there are engaged in the tournament.”
The new technologies being unveiled at the 2022 Masters not only looks to draw in more fans but also keep them coming back for more.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of users. We’ve seen an increase – probably more importantly in the time spent on the apps because once we bring someone in, it’s more important about how long we keep them and how long we keep them engaged than it is necessarily sheer numbers because so many things can impact your numbers.”
In addition to player insights, fans will be able to see the projected level of difficulty for each hole and on average what players can be expected to shoot, all of which will be integrated within the Masters Fantasy game.
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“Getting use out of data is not easy. Scaling data is not easy. Automating the workflows is not easy and all of that starts with the data,” Miller said. “We can have the best A.I. engine in the world and if it has no content, no data inside it, it can’t learn to create … It’s foundational to everything we do.”
A ticket to the Masters is hard to come by, only a small percentage of those entering the lottery actually get the chance to purchase tickets but the Masters partnership with IBM seemingly brings the experience to everyone
“I think innovation is – you don’t always think of that when you think of golf, and we think of the Masters tournament but they are some of the most innovative clients we have, and they have a singular focus – improve the game of golf and increase fan experience and engagement,” Miller said.
The 86th edition of the Masters Tournament begins on Thursday, April 7.